Sunday, April 22, 2012

21st April 2012

As local councils seize more power from central government, with more to come if e.g. Osborne’s plan to link salaries to location comes good, Labour MPs are already giving up on the Miliband Miracle and deciding to satisfy their control instincts by seeking election as mayors or police commissioners. This is no surprise. Power, on any terms, is in MPs’ DNA, as it was in Julius Caesar’s.

The essayist Plutarch (c. AD 100) provides two telling stories about Caesar that neatly make the point. In 67 BC, while serving in Spain, ‘he was reading some part of the history of Alexander when, after sitting for a long time lost in thought, he burst into tears. His surprised friends asked him the reason. “Don’t you think”, he said, “that I have reason for regret, when I reflect that at my age [33] Alexander [who died age 33] already ruled so many peoples, while I have not enjoyed a single brilliant success - yet?” ’ These were not tears of self-love, however, like those Ken gushed at some actors’ declarations of his indispensability. Rather, they expressed Caesar’s resolve to achieve that ‘brilliant success’.

In the second story, ‘he was crossing the Alps when he came to a small, sparsely inhabited native village, an altogether miserable-looking place. His friends, shrieking with laughter, said “No doubt here too you’d find men ambitious for high office, scrapping to come out on top, and jealous rivalry between the great and good.” Caesar then said to them - and he meant every word: “I would rather be first man here than second in Rome.” ’ Indeed, even in death he was determined to stay on top. His last words to Brutus – not et tu, Brute but Greek kai su, teknon ‘You too, son’ – far from being a cry of despair or disbelief or plea for sympathy, meant ‘And the same to you, kid’.

So if parliament cannot fulfil these MPs’ thirst to crack the whip over us, councils will have to satisfy their strange urges. The difference between them and Caesar, of course, is that Caesar did not intend for one moment to be top man anywhere other than Rome.

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